|The amazing panel!|
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr's birthday and his legacy, the King Center jump-started their new campaign #choosenonviolence by hosting a panel of professionals to discuss the issue of modern day slavery. The event was held this past Wednesday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta, the church where Martin Luther King Jr once stood and shook the nation with words of peace and equality. I had the privilege of attending the event and joining the discussion. The panelists included Dr. Alveda King, Susan Coopedge, Neil Irvin, Sheryl DeLuca Johnson, Stephanie Davis, Aaronde Creighton, Mary Frances and Lt. Janet Brady.
I was overjoyed to have the presence of two men on the panel as passionate about the cause as the women present. I was also overjoyed to see some men in the audience. I believe so often that the issue of human trafficking and what we sometimes call "women's issues" tend to be viewed as pertaining solely to one gender--women. However, as Hilary Clinton once said, "Let it be that women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights." It is imperative that we involve men in these issues and make the conversations surrounding these issues accessible to all. As was reiterated over and over again during the panel, both girls and boys, women and men are victims of human trafficking. The majority of victims may be women and girls, but this does not discredit the amount of boys and men sold into slavery every day around the world. Additionally, the poverty, violence, and unstable homes that can perpetuate the cycle of human trafficking are not products of solely women nor problems of women alone. Building a better society begins with both women and men joining together to make our world a better place.
While I was surprised and excited to see some men present as well as have men on the panel, I was disappointed by the numbers in the audience. While the issues at stake were large, the audience was small. Mostly older women sat in the pews of the church. I may have been the youngest one there aside from the daughter of one of the panelists. I consider myself educated on the issue of human trafficking; modern day slavery is on my radar, and I understand that this issue is happening not only abroad, as portrayed in films like "Taken", but also locally. However, the sheer numbers of people in the audience this past Wednesday night made me doubt how effective we have been as a society in letting our communities know what is truly going on on our streets and in the online space. People are being sold on street corners and online daily. Is the general public not concerned? Or do they in fact not know what is going on? I lean towards the latter.
I distinctly remember explaining the Half the Sky Movement to a friend at school. When I mentioned that people in America are being sold into slavery, my friend stopped me in my tracks. She could fathom such atrocities happening in remote countries such as Thailand or India; however, she couldn't imagine slavery existing on the streets of D.C. Unfortunately, it does. At the panel Wednesday night, I was even shocked to learn that most of the human trafficking that occurs in Georgia occurs in the suburbs--65%. I typically imagine human trafficking to occur on the busy streets of D.C. or Las Vegas; clearly, even I have some learning to do.
|Dr. Bernice King speaking on the issue of human trafficking in Georgia|
Dr. Bernice King said herself at the event that the one thing she would change about the #choosenonviolence campaign is who they are targeting. She recognized the lack of youth present and realized the importance of engaging young people in the conversation. Panelist Sheryl DeLuca Johnson who works for Street Grace, an organization fighting to end domestic minor sex trafficking, made a profound statement when discussing why she began to work with minors in this field. Previously, Johnson had worked with women at Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. She realized that while helping women, younger girls were writing the same story these older women currently were living. So she decided to work with younger girls to change their stories before they became those women.
The youth need to hear this conversation. The average age of girls entering the sex trade in Georgia is 14 years old. Young people, like myself, need to be present at events such as these, aware of what is going on, and active in changing the way our society works. While sitting in the audience, I wanted to ask how educating youth on the issue of human trafficking has possibly curbed the amount of girls and boys entering the trade. While I did not get the chance to ask the question, I almost felt the question was answered for me as Dr. Bernice King made clear the youth were not leading the King Center's campaign to end violence in Georgia. I know that organizations such as Fair Girls of D.C. and youthSpark of Georgia incorporate education into their mission, educating at-risk youth about the dangers of human trafficking. I commend their work as I believe this is a vital means of mitigating this issue. However; let's involve youth that aren't deemed "at-risk". Let's educate and empower youth to take the lead on campaigns such as #choosenonviolence. Let's have a young community activist on the panel. Let's show adults that we are ready to take the lead, and show other youth that we can make a difference and be a part of the solution.
While "taking the lead" and "making the change" can be empowering words, they can also be overwhelming. As panelist Aaronde Creighton, a member of the board of directors of Street Grace, mentioned, "Do one thing." There are a multitude of problems in our society. It can be overwhelming wondering where to begin, how to help, which issue to address. Creighton emphasized taking on one thing and exemplified how "one thing" can make a difference by referring back to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. African Americans challenged the injustice of segregation in America in the 1950's by doing "one thing"--not riding the buses. Thirteen months after committing to this "one thing", the Supreme Court ruled segregation on buses unconstitutional. Like African Americans during the civil rights movement, today we too can challenge the injustices in our society, but we must do something!
|Me and Dr. Bernice King--What an honor!|
We must not remain silent because our voices are the only way we can let it be known that modern day slavery and other problems that plague our world matter. As panelists Stephanie Davis, Executive Director at Georgia Women For a Change Inc., and Susan Coppedge, Assistant U.S. State Attorney, emphasized repeatedly, "We all have a voice. We just need to use it." Use your voice! Write to your senator; lobby with the public; do something to let your voice be heard. As Martin Luther King, Jr stated, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Modern day slavery matters and we can no longer stay silent. Register today for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Lobby Day this February 13th if you live in Georgia and tell your legislators that this issue matters to you. Join the One Billion Rising Campaign. Volunteer in your local community. Sign the petition to get the International Violence Against Women Act passed. These are all small actions you can take that truly make a difference.
I challenge you to continue this conversation, learn more, and involve all people in our society to bring about change. We can do this if we work together; we can do this if we all let our voices be heard.